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Ecol Appl. 2010 Oct;20(7):1794-800.

Interactions among temporal patterns determine the effects of multiple stressors.

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School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.


Recent research has revealed that one of the most important characteristics of both natural and anthropogenic disturbances is their temporal heterogeneity. However, little is known about the relative importance of interactions among temporal patterns of multiple stressors. We established a fully factorial field experiment to test whether interactions among temporal patterns of two globally important anthropogenic disturbances of aquatic ecosystems (increased sediment loading and nutrient enrichment) determined the responses of stream benthic assemblages. Each disturbance treatment comprised three distinct regimes: regular and temporally variable pulses and an undisturbed control. The overall frequency, intensity and extent of disturbance was, however, equal across all disturbed treatments. We found that interactions among temporal disturbance regimes determined the effects of the compounded sediment and nutrient perturbations on algal biomass and the diversity, taxonomic and trophic composition of benthic assemblages. Moreover, our results also show that the temporal synchronization of multiple stressors does not necessarily maximize the impact of compounded perturbations. This comprises the first experimental evidence that interactions among the temporal patterns of disturbances drive the responses of ecosystems to multiple stressors. Knowledge of the temporal pattern of disturbances is therefore essential for the reliable prediction of impacts from, and effective management of, compounded perturbations.

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